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322                                                                                                    B.   POLEVOI

The noise of the air battle that was fought over the
roads along which the rear administrations of the attack-
ing armies were streaming was heard not only by the men
in the cockpits of the planes engaged in battle. It was also
heard through a powerful radio set at the airfield by
Colonel Ivanov, the Commander of the Guards Fighter
Wing. An experienced flyer himself, he could tell by the
sounds that came to him over the ether that the fight was
a hot one, that the enemy was strong and stubborn and
was refusing to surrender the sky. The news that Fedotov
was fighting an unequal battle quickly spread through the
airfield. All those who could came out of the wood into
the glade and looked anxiously to the south from where
the planes were expected to return.
Surgeons in their white smocks came hurrying out of
the messroom, chewing as they ran. Ambulance cars with
big red crosses painted on their roofs emerged from the
bushes and stood with their engines humming, ready for
action.
The first pair came flying over the tree tops and, with-
out circling over the airfield, landed and taxied down
the spacious field. It consisted of "No. 1", piloted by Hero
of the Soviet Union Fedotov, and "No. 2", piloted by
his follower. Right on their heels came the second pair.
The air over the wood echoed with the roar of the engines
of the returning machines.
"Seven, eight, nine, ten," counted the watchers, scan-
ning the sky with growing anxiety.
The machines that landed left the field, taxied to their
caponiers, and fell silent. Two machines were still
missing.
An expectant hush fell upon the waiting crowd. Minutes
passed with tormenting slowness.
"Meresyev and Petrov," said somebody quietly.
Suddenly a joyous female voice rang over the field:
"There's one!"
The roar of an aircraft engine was heard. Over the
tops of the birch-trees, almost grazing them, came "No.
12". The plane was damaged, a piece of its tail was miss-